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Words Hurt, Even Online

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I’ve recently seen a lot of articles about cyber-bullying and sexual harassment online and how it takes its toll on female victims in particular. I’ll be honest; I scoffed at most of them.


I’ve been online since Lynx was the new cool thing, and in that time I’ve fended off more jerks than I have door-to-door salesmen. At first, I was taken aback by the shockingly unsubtle male attention I attracted just for being female and having a pulse. After about the 1000th basement-dweller slobbered on me or said, “u r a bitch” I just sort of stopped being able to get worked up about it. 


I wrote in a scathing comment on an article about “rape” in Second Life that chicks should just man up and stop crying about it. Put the guy on ignore or mute or whatever, and just pretend he’s not even there. The anonymity of the Internet gives a legion of would-be tough guys a way to bully those who cannot retaliate, but it also gives you the means to erase them from your online experience. 


Imagine my surprise when I found myself a victim of just such bullying. And I could not turn it off.


I was happily playing a game online with about twelve other people. We were using software called Ventrilo for voice-chat to talk and coordinate things. It’s not only convenient, but also nifty to be able to just talk to your buddies all over the country as you play. The game started going poorly and one of the men, a truculent and rather argumentative fellow, began to get irate. I made a silly joke to try to lighten the mood and he attacked me verbally with an intensity I have not previously experienced, online or off. Several people protested and he started screaming at them, too. That was when we realized that the friend who owns the Ventrilo server—and thus the administrative privileges—was not online. This jerk realized it, too, and was taunting us that we could not kick him out. 


It is an odd feeling to be a captive audience to someone who is screaming obscenities at you. I couldn’t seem to focus enough to remember to take my own advice. My hands were trembling. It wasn’t that I cared what this bully thought of me or the words he said. It was the overwhelming barrage of hatred and rage that took me utterly aback. This person with whom I had only a passing acquaintance wanted to hurt me in any way he could. He wanted me to be upset. He wanted me to cry. He wanted me to break down, thereby proving what a big man he was. 


I managed to laugh at him, and then I muted him. Bullies hate that. One of the gals found the administrative password in her papers and banned the jerk. Good riddance.


Once he was gone, silence reigned. The game ground to a halt. We were shocked and subdued. He hadn’t managed to hurt anyone’s feelings but we were shaken by such a severe outburst in the middle of our friendly game. We had known the guy was snarky but nobody had thought him capable of that


For once, I finally understood what my perhaps less experienced online sisters felt. I’ve become inured to all but the most extreme of outbursts, but this incident truly shocked me. It has been a long time since any kind of bullying got that reaction out of me. What a horrible thing for one person to do to another.


It breaks my heart to imagine what his poor wife and child must go through with this man. Does he hit them? Or just scream at them until the tears come and he can feel important again. My fleeting and unpleasant experience with him is just the merest taste of what they must endure every single day.


One thing he said really struck me. It wasn’t the obscenities, the insults or the nasty tone he used. He kept saying, “Shut up and listen to me when I’m talking!” What kind of upbringing must this man have had to believe that he had to hurt people to be heard? That he had to make them listen? It may not be any easier being the bully than it is to be the bullied. 


When the furor had died down, my friends showed a great deal of concern for me. Were my feelings hurt? Was I okay? No, really, was I sure? It shamed me to think that I had blown off the same feelings in other women, when my friends were so solicitous of mine. I finally get it. I still advocate muting the jerk and erasing him from your world. But I now know to deal more gently with those who have had to do so.


 

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